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Comparing the inflight experience on Emirates, Etihad and Qatar during the pandemic

July 10, 2020
6 min read
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As the coronavirus pandemic continues, airlines are trying to reassure customers that it's once again safe to take to the skies.

One of the ways they're going about that is by cleaning planes more regularly, requiring personal protective equipment be worn and modifying the inflight service procedures.

Before the pandemic, you'd likely be served a multi-course meal replete with a top-shelf liquor selection if you're sitting at the pointy end of the plane. Nowadays, your experience is really going to differ based on which carrier you choose to fly.

That's why we'll compare the inflight service on three of the world's top carriers — Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, the "Middle East Three" that have earned a reputation for top service especially in premium classes and serve several destinations in the U.S. We asked the airlines to detail what their onboard experience looks like these days, and this is what they told us.

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Food and beverage

Emirates

As one of the most well-known global airlines, Emirates isn't changing all that much about the meal service onboard. In premium cabins on long-haul flights, the carrier continues to serve hot meals using cutlery and crockery that's sterilized before each use. Single-use menus and wine lists are on offer.

Though the food isn't changing much, the drink service is heavily modified. In business class, there's just one red and one white wine on offer. In first class, there are two reds and two whites. Champagne and beer are available in both cabins, but cocktail service is suspended indefinitely. You can expect Dom Perignon 2008 in first and Veuve Clicquot Brut NV in business.

Emirates first class on the Airbus A380 (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Limited special dietary meals are available onboard and can be pre-booked on the carrier's website.

Related: Review of Emirates first class from Dubai to LA

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Etihad

Not much is changing about Etihad's onboard food and beverage program. Service has not been reduced, nor has the menu or quantity.

That means that whether you're seated in The Residence — the most exclusive commercial cabin in the skies — or the Business Studio, you'll be served a multi-course meal.

Etihad's Apartment (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Likewise, nothing is changing about the liquor selection on board.

Lastly, special meals continue to be available for those with dietary restrictions.

Qatar

Like American Airlines, Qatar's meal service is practically the same as before the pandemic. There's a full snack and meal service, as well as normal beverage service.

Single-use menu cards are offered, and all meals are served in plastic wrapping. Unfortunately, pre-order meals are temporarily suspended.

Qatar Airways Qsuite biz-class seat (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Qatar frequently rotates its menu offerings, but premium passengers can expect a choice of two Champagnes (one white and one rosé), three different styles each of red and white wines, plus a dessert wine and a port, which is typically a Colheita or a 20-year-old aged Tawny.

Related: These are some of the most expensive wines in the sky

Amenities

Emirates

Emirates is known for its bling. Sadly, most of it is off-limits due to the coronavirus. The onboard lounge and showers are closed.

There's no live TV or free Wi-Fi available on board, nor are there magazines and newspapers.

Emirates shower on the Airbus A380 (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Standard amenity kits are still offered, and all passengers flying out from Dubai airport are also given hygiene travel kits containing a mask, gloves, wipes and sanitizer.

Pillows and blankets are available in premium cabins, and first-class passengers continue to receive pajamas.

Etihad

Etihad hasn't modified any of its amenity offerings. That means premium cabin passengers can enjoy the Acqua di Parma amenity kits, as well as onboard Wi-Fi.

Pillows, blankets and pajamas continue to be available on long-haul flights.

In addition to amenity kits, Etihad is providing each passenger with a wellness kit, including a face mask, gloves and hand gel.

Related: Long live the Residence: Etihad will keep flying its A380s

Qatar

Like Emirates, all onboard social areas and lounges are temporarily closed.

Pillows are available on all flights. Blankets are available on flights over two hours, amenity kits are available on flights over four hours, pajamas are available on redeyes over seven hours and turndown service is available on Qsuite flights over seven hours.

Complimentary protective kits are provided in all cabins, across all routes. These kits contain a single-use surgical face mask, large disposable powder-free gloves and hand sanitizer.

Qatar's "Super Wi-Fi" service remains available on the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777 fleets.

Service

Emirates

The doting service that you might expect from Emirates is definitely scaled back. Dine-on-demand is still offered in first class, but there are no hot towels across the board. Welcome drinks are being restricted to first-class passengers only.

Emirates first class service (Photo by Sergey Kohl/Shutterstock)

Related: You can now buy Emirates first-class amenity items online

Etihad

Etihad typically provides a dine-on-demand concept for those in business, first and The Residence. That's not changing, though the service flow will be modified to reduce touchpoints with the cabin crew.

Dinner in Etihad business (Photo by Samanta Rosen/The Points Guy)

Aside from the flight attendants wearing full-body PPE, you can expect multiple food courses to be delivered on one tray. If there's anything else you require, the cabin crew will be able to deliver it, the airline said.

Related: Watch as TPG U.K. reviews all four classes on Etihad Airways

Qatar

Though Qatar is suspending hot towel service, all premium passengers can expect welcome drinks, as well as single-use refreshing wipes. The dining service is still an on-demand concept, though all food will be served individually wrapped on a single tray.

Qatar Qsuite food (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Related: Review of Qatar Airways Qsuite business class on the 777-300ER

Bottom line

We're living in unprecedented times, and that is reflected in the onboard service on some of the world's top carriers.

Each of the three major Middle East airlines have adapted their service procedures to ensure a safer journey. Emirates is definitely curtailing service elements a bit more than both Etihad and Qatar, but you're still in for a luxurious flight should you choose to travel nowadays.

Featured image by Getty Images

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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023